Dagger in hand

A man of prodigious fortune, coming to add his opinion to some light discussion that was going on casually at his table, began precisely thus: "It can only be a liar or an ignoramus who will say otherwise than," and so on. Pursue that philosophical point, dagger in hand.

--Michel de Montaigne, Of the art of discussion.

Stab back: cmnewman99-at-yahoo.com


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Friday, April 18, 2003
A matter of priorities:
Here's the article that seems to be the momentary rage.

Some Iraqis, however, question the allocation of U.S. forces around the capital. They note a whole company of Marines, along with at least a half-dozen amphibious assault vehicles, has been assigned to guard the Oil Ministry, while many other ministries -- including trade, information, planning, health and education -- remain unprotected.

"Why just the oil ministry?" Jaf asked. "Is it because they just want our oil?"

Before and during the war, I remember lots of catastrophic scenarios being bandied about. But among the visions of the entire Arab Street (where is this street, anyway?) joinng al-Qaeda and Israel nuking Baghdad, I don't recall hearing anyone express concern about the risk that museums and hospitals would be looted by liberated Iraqis. Is there any reason we should have expected this? I've heard it stated that there was some looting in Paris after its liberation as well--but did they really try to clean out the Louvre? (And did U.S. troops stop them? "Put down the Mona Lisa, Monsieur, and come out with your hands behind your head!") I suppose with hindsight it's easy to say we should have realized that people this destitute would grab anything they could once order broke down, but that they'd actually loot hospitals never occurred to me at least. Did anyone predict this?

On the other hand, we knew that there was a huge risk Saddam's men would set fire to the oil wells if attacked. They had done it before in Kuwait. And they did in fact use trenches full of burning oil as a military tactic (albeit a pretty ineffective one). Further, oil fires take years to extinguish and cause terrible environmental pollution. (Preventing that sort of thing is usually pretty high in the priorities of America's critics, trumped only I guess by the need to generate conspiracy theories about us.) Finally, the oil is crucial to the immediate economic future of Iraq and its people. The loss of historical treasures is tragic, but only from the perspective of people who already have food on the table.

Forces are limited. You have to figure out the areas of greatest risk and commit them accordingly. I've seen the usual suspects trying to make hay out of this story, but I have yet to hear any attempt to mount a serious argument on either of the following points:

1) That the danger to Iraq's museums, hospitals, etc. was known beforehand to US planners to be serious enough to require specific preventive measures.

2) That this risk, if known, was remotely as great or as consequential as the risk that the oil fields would be detonated.

If you don't address those two points seriously, then you have no basis to infer from our allocation of resources that we don't "really" care about the Iraqi people.

So, no Jaf, we don't want your oil. We want you to have it. We were trying to save it for you from the same guy we were trying to save you from. Sorry we didn't also manage simultaneously to save you from yourselves.

But you know, ultimately only you guys can do that.

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